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To FLOW or not to FLOW

Experiencing the flow state is a dream come true. You effortlessly generate ideas, and nothing else seems to matter as you lose track of time and space. You have a clear direction, and each move you make seems to be perfect. This state of mind is called the flow state or being in the flow. In this state, you become completely absorbed in your work, leading to increased creativity, innovation, and happiness.

Jonathan Carter, GitHub's CEO's technical advisor, describes the flow state as a magical . You become so engrossed in your work that you don't realize when your teammates leave for lunch. It's not because you're a workaholic but because there's nothing else that you'd rather be doing.

In this blog post, we'll delve deeper into what the flow state entails, the benefits of experiencing it, and three tips to reach this state of mind the next time you sit down to code. Let's get started.

The positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of flow state in his 1990 book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal ”. In this book, Csikszentmihalyi outlines nine dimensions of flow, which are as follows:

– Challenge-skills balance
– Total concentration
– Clear goals
– Immediate feedback
– Transformation of time
– Feeling intrinsically rewarded
– Effortlessness
– Loss of self-consciousness
– Feeling of total control

Csikszentmihalyi researched how people attain productivity and happiness and discovered that people's thoughts and actions “flowed” in their favorite and most absorbed moments, leading to unmatched motivation, meaning, and creativity.

Idan Gazit, senior director of research at GitHub, believes that while software has traditionally been viewed as mathematical or scientific, writing code shares similarities with other pursuits. According to Gazit, whether you're penning an essay or writing a program, the challenge lies in getting into the right headspace to express what you intend to convey.

are more productive when they reach a state of flow. Collaborating through comments, pull requests, and issues facilitates this state and leads to improved quality of work. Effective collaboration provides various advantages, such as faster and more writing, improved test coverage, creative solutions, and faster deployments. On the other hand, when cannot collaborate freely, their work suffers, and it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back to the task after an interruption. The flow state is essential for individual and benefits businesses. Chris Reddington, the Senior Manager of Developer Advocacy at GitHub, claims that flow state is crucial for business success as it allows engineering teams to stay focused on solving big problems. Today's environments use several languages and multiple cloud providers, creating pressure, complexity, and distractions. Therefore, the more we can help engineering teams stay in the flow, the better. To achieve a flow state during day-to-day tasks, should follow some tips that work across various industries and career stages.

Tip #1: Optimize Your Environment

Creating a distraction-free environment that is conducive to work can have a significant impact on your productivity. Here are some practical ideas to help you achieve this:

– Block time. Set aside personal focus events on your calendar where no one can schedule meetings.
– Schedule breaks. Use a timer to give yourself 15-30 minute breaks throughout the workday.
– Snooze Slack and phone notifications. Be antisocial and make yourself unavailable to the world.
– Eliminate or reduce multitasking. Being able to do more than one task at a time is a myth.
– Invest in headphones. Noise-canceling headphones, in particular, can help reduce stress and keep your focus high.
– Get comfortable. Invest in ergonomic office equipment, wear comfortable clothes, and ensure you've had enough to eat.
– Hold on scheduling meetings. If you're a team leader, be mindful of meeting frequency.
– Create a pre-flow ritual. Routines like grabbing coffee, checking your messages, and then putting your phone on silent can cue your brain that it's time to get to work.

Of course, distractions can still occur despite our best efforts. If you must step away from the task, that's okay. Gazit also suggests pair programming or solution to help overcome mental hurdles.

“It's a great magic trick,” he says. “Stepping back and talking through the problem with a teammate is often the fastest route to getting unstuck.”

He also adds that GitHub Copilot can be helpful for this.

“GitHub Copilot is never busy,” he says. “I'm not distracting it when I put it to work. Debugging with a rubber duck is fantastic, but GitHub Copilot is the rubber duck that talks back. It helps me reason about the solution space and suggests approaches I wouldn't have considered.”

Tip #2: Map Out Your Work

Achieving a flow state requires having a clear path to accomplish your goal. One way to do this is by mapping out your work. Gazit, for instance, enters the flow state by striking a balance in his architectural work. This is especially crucial for complex tasks like designing an API, where building an architecture requires considering how it will be used and what kind of load it'll put on your database. 

“I can do the bricklaying with a feeling that I'm super clear on what I'm doing if I do the architectural work well,” he says. “I know exactly where I'm going.”

Reddington notes that mapping out your work and blocking out time often complement each other. “When I block out chunks of time, I can figure out how to solve the problems I'm tackling appropriately,” he says.

However, Reddington warns that you may sometimes fix what you're trying to do within the allotted blocked time. Nevertheless, you can start organizing your thoughts. 

Finding the right balance of challenge and skill to achieve flow would be best. If a task is too easy, you'll be bored and unsatisfied. If it's manageable, you'll be relaxed about completing it, which will keep flow elusive. 

“A good mix can make all the difference,” Reddington says.

Tip #3: Find joy in the work you're doing. 

You can only achieve the flow state if you're enjoying yourself. According to Carter, it's only possible to hit the flow state without worrying about meetings, emails, or dinner plans. It's similar to being entertained, like when you're reading a book and can't wait to finish the next chapter or binge-watching a show on Netflix and need to see the next episode.

Enjoying work is not limited to individuals; it also pertains to teams. Carter suggests that office work enjoyment can be increased by clearly articulating the outcomes you're trying to accomplish. When a product manager writes a well-articulated issue that clarifies the end result, the team is more likely to be motivated to take that work on and complete it quickly.

If you're involved in a project you don't enjoy, it can be helpful to rethink why you're doing that work in the first place. Carter suggests that you should recreate the mindset of why you should solve the problem, which can bootstrap curiosity and get you back into the flow state.

Achieving a flow state can significantly enhance norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin, and endorphins, increasing feelings of motivation and intrinsic reward, as well as pattern recognition and lateral thinking ability. It's a win for productivity, well-being, and keeping the innate developer fire strong.

With flow state, you're never at a point where you're performing the same mechanics twice. You're learning in response to what you're doing, building up an unconscious muscle of curiosity. The learning potential is endless.

Developer : What is it and why should you care? – The GitHub Blog. 

The Importance of Culture from an Intern's Perspective – Upnext Leadership Coaching. 

Mirlohi, Mehdi, et al. “Flow in Translation.” Target-international Journal of Translation Studies, 2011,

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